The 51 individual parishes that make up the Diocese of Norwich are invited to choose either to pay an as yet undetermined amount of money as part of the settlement of the Diocese’s bankruptcy, or to bear the legal fees and the cost of settling any future lawsuit brought against individual parishes.
A committee of three pastors from the Diocese of Norwich, working with legal counsel, is asking individual parishes to join the legal process as a group, in order to protect against possible legal action. To do this, each parish will have to pay in advance $ 5,000 in legal fees, plus an unknown sum of money which will be part of the settlement of the diocese’s bankruptcy.
Parishes are not required to join the group, which is officially called the Association of Parishes of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut. However, Fr. Ted Tumicki, one of the committee members, told CT Examiner that he expects all parishes to agree to join.
The three priests on the committee – Tumicki, of St. Mary of Our Lady of the Rosary in Jewett City, Fr. Laurence LaPointe of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Willimantic and Fr. Dennis Perkins of St. Michael the Archangel to Pawcatuck – wrote a letter that was presented to parishioners at various churches in the diocese last weekend explaining the reasoning behind the strategy.
In July, the Diocese of Norwich, which spans the counties of Windham, Middlesex, Tolland and New London, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Bishop Michael Côté of the diocese said in a letter published in July that the Diocese was unable to pay damages for more than 60 complaints of abuse that allegedly took place at Mount Saint John School, a former residential school in Deep River.
The recent letter explained that when cases of sexual abuse have been reported in the past, the people who made the claims would generally sue both the diocese as a whole and the individual parish where it happened. When this happened, the diocese would step in and bear the costs involved.
“In such a case, the diocese requested an attorney on behalf of the parish, negotiated a settlement on behalf of the parish, and paid all parish legal fees as well as any financial settlements against the parish that were not covered by insurance, ”reads the letter.
As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, the court will eventually issue an injunction setting a date after which people can no longer sue the Diocese of Norwich for events that occurred before July 15, 2021.
The problem, the letter explains, is that individual parishes then become responsible for their own legal fees and any settlements if someone takes legal action against a particular parish.
Being included in the injunction would mean that individual parishes, as well as the diocese, could no longer be prosecuted for events that occurred before July 15, 2021. Tumicki told CT Examiner that this would give parishes some protection, especially considering given gaps in insurance coverage. .
“Insurance coverage would provide very little, if any, as insurance payments will have been exhausted due to the bankruptcy settlement,” the letter said.
Tumicki said joining the injunction would be a two-part process: First, the court would determine the total amount the parish group would have to pay as part of its inclusion in the injunction. Then, he said, the committee of three pastors that wrote the letter will work with the pastors in each ward to determine how much each ward will contribute in that amount.
According to Tumicki, the amount of each parish’s contribution would be prorated. He said they are asking pastors to design a formula to determine how much each ward will pay, but he said an idea might be to base the amount on the annual income of the parish, or on the amount that parishes receive. by offering collections. He also said pastors might consider taking out loans from neighboring parishes.
Tumicki said parishes could find themselves in difficulty if they are unable to pay their share of the court-ordered sum.
“It puts parishes in a questionable position if they are struggling to find payment,” he said.
In the case of the $ 5,000 for legal fees, Tumicki said, each parish will have to decide on a source of funds. Tumicki said that for his three parishes, the money would be drawn either from the parish checking account or from the savings account.
Tumicki said the committee informed the bishop of the group’s intention to form an association of parishes.
“The bishop has indicated that since we are separate parishes, he will let us do it,” Tumicki said.
The Diocese of Norwich did not respond to a request for comment from CT Examiner.
Class attorney Mark A. Mintz of New Orleans-based Jones Walker LLP and local attorney Jeffrey Hellman of the Law Offices of Jeffrey Hellman, LLC in New Haven declined to speak with CT Examiner.
A document that Mintz and Hellman filed in court on Nov. 8 affirms the creation of the association, which, according to the document, was formed “to address the concerns of the parishes, to advance the positions of the parishes as a group and, if necessary, to defend the legal interests of the parishes in the case of the debtor of Chapter 11 ”.
The court has yet to set a date by which people must bring claims against the Diocese of Norwich. The next court hearing for the case of the diocese is scheduled for November 9.